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Volume 14, Issue 6: Recipio

Eat Up

Ben Merkle

One of the reasons we frequently miss a hard-edged sense of the antithesis is that we don't have a proper appreciation of the antithesis ourselves. Instead of seeing and appreciating the beauty of what it is we are standing for, we get fixated on the fact that it sometimes hurts to take a stand. Soon we think the essence of biblical antithesis is masochism and that we strike a blow for the kingdom when we refuse to turn the heat on in the winter or when we offer to eat the other kid's crust for him. But the point of the antithesis isn't asceticism. As God's covenant people, we are called out from the rest of the world and ought to live differently as a result. This separation is sometimes painful and difficult and frequently requires being obnoxious and taking a stand we wish we didn't have to take. But Athanasius didn't take his stand because he thought ostracism would be enjoyable. Rather, he stood because he thought the deity of Christ was beautiful enough that it would be worth ostracism.

A primary example of this lies in Paul's teaching on the nature of marriage. We think Paul says hard things about a wife's relationship to her husband, things that can't be repeated in public. We tiptoe sheepishly through the mall, going about our business, hoping no one finds out, hoping no one asks if we think a woman is required to submit to her husband. But in fixating on what we think might be embarrassing, we miss the pure loveliness of what Paul is saying. We think that in the Pauline doctrine of male headship we have been called to sojourn in the Sahara and told to like it, when in actuality we have been brought to the land of milk and honey and told to eat up.
The fact that man has been called to be the head of woman (1 Cor. 11:3) means woman is the body of man. But where we are scared we might find justification for oppression and victimization of the female gender, Paul finds the foundation for the greatest sacrifice and selfless love. "So husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church" (Eph. 5:28-29).
We read these words and begin psyching ourselves up for the battle that will ensue when we assert our headship over this body of ours that we think needs to be put back in its place. But we forget to stop and look in awe at the fact that God gave us such an incredible body. God gave husbands a female body. Look on the cover of any magazine, and you will see an image of the better portion of this object of the whole world's desire. But where all of the world has to pay for a picture, God gave husbands their very own. Not only that, but God commands husbands not to share. In the fight for the Christian antithesis of male headship, gratitude, not shrillness, is the need of the hour. God gave us "bliss throbbing Eve," as the Welsh poem put it, and we act as if He gave us a cold sore.
Not only were we given a woman, but God cast a special spell on her. When a man sacrifices himself for his wife, he finds all his work boomerangs back to him again sevenfold. This is the Gospel paradox all over again. The last shall be first and the least greatest. He who loses his life finds it. The one talent of effort required to change a couple of lightbulbs and take out the garbage without being asked is multiplied into a ten talent steak dinner and dark beer. He who spends his body for his wife, sweating and bleeding in home improvement projects, will find a far nicer body waiting for him that evening. The mustard seed of fidelity sown throughout the day grows into a glorious tree of unspeakable pleasure in the evening that dwarfs the wasteland shrubs of promiscuity. This is mystery. The two become one.
And the mystery runs deep. The spell that fuels a husband's mysterious connection to his wife's body depicts the Great Mystery, the Gospel. God didn't give us a silly pamphlet, a Power Point presentation, or a catchy slogan. He gave us a man and a woman, inscrutably joined, and yet I speak of the Church. As a man dies daily for his wife, he sees her grow more and more lovely. He sees a picture of the efficacious love of Christ. How can a Christian be timid and embarrassed by this miracle? Of course the world will misrepresent it. They will attempt to connect this sort of headship to abusive husbands and the bastards who couldn't get off the couch to help a woman in with the groceries to save their lives. But pagans always smell death when eternal life is being served. A woman isn't victimized in her submission, she is made the focal point of sacrifice. She is redeemed, washed, and sanctified. Pagans miss this because of their spiritual blindness. But for those who have been given eyes to see, what excuse do we have? What is there to be embarrassed by? What is there to be shrill about?
Be grateful.

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